When the show was in the planning stages, Bell pointed the Parts Unknown production company, Zero Point Zero, to Berkeley company Next Adventure whose expertise is curating personalized, conservation-minded safari and wildlife trips to Africa. Bell is friends with Kili McGowan, the company’s managing director, and was sure its thoughtful approach to travel would marry well with Bourdain’s show.
“It was such a great shared opportunity,” said McGowan. Both Bell and Bourdain, whether through the lens of diversity in America, or international food culture, go into experiences with open hearts and minds, she said. “They both have a vulnerability and empathy that draws people into conversations.”
Next Adventure recommended the visit to the Lewa Conservancy. “The transition from the vibrancy and intensity of Nairobi to the tranquility of the conservancy is one of my favorite parts,” said McGowan who accompanied the crew on the shoot.
In March 2018, Kili McGowan, Next Adventure’s Managing Director, accompanied the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown crew during their time on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. This is her story and photos from that experience.
It was a rainy day.
Surprisingly, the day I met Anthony Bourdain – on safari – was fraught with an unseasonal rain storm that lasted for three months after a 5-year drought. The flooding was so bad in Nairobi it made headlines briefly in the US. We were sitting inside by a fire in the cozy main living room of Lewa Wilderness, a family-owned safari lodge on Lewa Conservancy.
You might say it was when I really met him, because in truth, I’d been introduced to Anthony the day before, just prior to the rain starting. It was arrival day for the shoot and while chatting with my dear friend Kamau Bell who had just arrived from the noise of Nairobi, Anthony walked right up and said hello as if it was just any other day for him. Easy, comfortable and casual…humble, and unlike any other celebrity encounter I’d had before.
Anthony and Kamau were at Lewa to shoot what we now know to be one of the final episodes of Parts Unknown, the famous travel series that invites people to see the world through the lens of Anthony and his exceptional crew. Of course, Anthony had been to Africa countless times, but now the seasoned traveler “was dying to see how Kamau handles the heat, the spice, the crowds, the overwhelming rush of a whole new world”.
They started in Nairobi looking for examples of community empowerment and uplifting aspects of Kenya’s pride, politics and creativity. Naturally, they wanted a safari to match this perspective, and they were looking for a story at the intersection of tourism, conservation and local Kenyan engagement.
This perspective – one of hope, creativity and resilience – was a perfect match with one of our beloved destinations, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. Established in 1995 by the Craig family, Lewa was originally a cattle ranch that has since grown to be one of the most successful rhino conservation projects in the world while also providing medical services to nearly 50,000 people.
As a conservation model, this patchwork of ranches has inspired the Northern Rangelands Trust which includes 35 community conservancies and 18 ethnic groups spread over 42,000 sq. kms. of Kenya’s wild northern frontier. Lewa is an epicenter of conversations about land and wildlife management, anti-poaching strategies, and secure, sustainable development. Lewa embodies a radical innovation of Kenya’s most foundational structures, and the lesson from Lewa is clear: to protect wildlife, you have to build clinics, support schools and empower local communities.
Uncovering the Story
We knew Anthony and his crew would find what they needed at Lewa. It just so happened that at the time of their visit, presidential politics were extremely precarious, and tensions were also growing in Kenya because of a 5-year drought the country had been experiencing. Managing and monitoring the needs of the communities as well as those of the animals and the sometimes constricting laws that surround land and water usage created desperate situations that were complex and palpable. Although a complex and sensitive issue, we knew that Parts Unknown was interested in capturing some of this story, and certainly how it was impacting the nation overall.
Travel – and the unforgettable gems that result from it – can be tricky. The ‘magical’ moments that travelers seek can be elusive in spite of the best laid plans. Our first sundowner shot with Anthony and Kamau, for example, was enshrouded in streaky grey clouds, but, rather than hang onto that disappointment, we proceeded with our schedule…capturing intimate audio from Anthony that perhaps today carries a bit of comfort that he knew his life was well-lived.
Seventeen f—ing years. As soon as the cameras turn off and the crew will be sitting around, we’ll be having a cocktail, I f— pinch myself. I cannot f— believe that I get to do this.
As luck would have it, magic did manage to find us the next day. In an almost prophetic way, there was a sighting of a male and female lion together on a hilltop where they’ve been spotted before…except this time, they almost immediately sauntered down the hill and walked directly toward our vehicle with Tony and Kamau following behind. After that fortuitous sighting, we continued on to Il Ngwesi Community Ranch for a celebratory lunch that was simple and profound. And then, it happened.
An Unexpected Gift
Coming from a direction that even the Maasai elders didn’t expect was an unlikely storm in an atypical month. Kenyans generally experience the ‘short rains’ in December, and the ‘long rains’ in April and May which is when the bulk of the precipitation happens, but this was March 2nd. The direction, the timing and the dramatic ending of Kenya’s drought was electrifying the country…in that very moment. And, it was captured by and with Anthony Bourdain. The entire community, the crew, even Kamau…everyone…was dancing in celebration of the unexpected gift.
This is how I ended up in front of a fire with the sound of raindrops on the roof, chatting with Anthony. Not surprisingly, we talked about travel. I was curious if there was a destination he found most surprising, and he told me about Iran…he said the people were kind, welcoming and embracing. We talked about respecting cultures and how when someone you just met offers you something to eat, you absolutely eat it. For Anthony, the first and final frontier was a culture’s food, and, to have an authentic adventure, one must be completely immersed in it.
That visit, now documented in one of his final episodes, will certainly be held as one of my most treasured memories. The rain we had was certainly symbolic of how his visit brought so many gifts to this hopeful place; from his company around that fire to the light that this episode will bring to Lewa and the surrounding communities and certainly to the ongoing story of Kenya’s beauty and resilience.
Special thanks to Dawn Shalhoup at www.prpotion.com for helping tell this story.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to take this moment to tell him what he really means to me,’ ” Bell says.
He told Bourdain that he watched his show on his couch 10 years ago, thought it was a perfect job, and wondered how a struggling comic could get there. Bourdain responded that he was a simple cook, “dunking fries” at age 44, and never thought he’d see Rome much less Kenya.
It was a special moment, Bell recalls, that now feels like a goodbye.
In the 1990s, Zimbabwe was booming. It was a sought-after destination, and Next Adventure was one of the few photographic safari experts to specialize in travel to Zimbabwe.
Over the past couple of decades, Zimbabwe tourism has struggled, but there is optimism in the air. Three of the most influential safari operators are opening new camps in the Zambezi valley. Vic Falls town is humming again with lots of new lodges and development, and more travelers are opting for a full Zimbabwe Safari Circuit.
Zimbabwe is a country of remarkable diversity with a variety of excellent wildlife viewing regions. There’s boating and walking safaris, archeological touring, ground-breaking conservation work, one of the seven woders of the world and some of the best naturalist guides on the continent.
We’re excited to be working on a wonderful itinerary for a family of four that includes Zimbabwe’s iconic destinations as well as stops in the lesser known areas in the south.
We love how this itinerary unfolds. We start off with the stunning beauty and adventure of the Zambezi Valley and the predator rich pans of Hwange National Park, then there’s a mid-point stop to explore Vic Falls before continuing to the granite wilderness of Matopos and a fascinating World Heritage site, the Great Zimbabwe Ruins.
The circuit ends in the Gonarezhou area which ties together all the themes that make for a great safari: community-based conservation, cultural experiences, and a wide range of activities in a truly breathtaking wilderness setting.
1 night in Johannesburg on arrival at The Intercontinental
3 nights in Mana Pools at Zambezi Expeditions or Little Ruckomechi Camp
3 nights in Hwange National Park at Somalisa Camp or Davison’s Camp
2 nights in Victoria Falls at Victoria Falls Hotel or Old Drift Lodge
3 nights in Matopos at Amalinda Lodge
1 nights in Masvingo to tour the Great Zimbabwe Monutment
3 nights in Gonarezhou National Park at Chilo Gorge or Singita Pamushana
Here’s a google map to see how their trip is coming together:
As the sun drifted down on the rolling hills of South Africa’s Free State province, Manie Van Niekerk wore a mournful look. The 52-year-old farmer and rancher, whose short hair is dark on top and gray on the sides, has a sturdy, solid frame formed by decades of physical work. He looks like a man who is hard to shake. And yet, talking about his 32 rhinoceroses, which at that moment he was preparing to give away, he was visibly moved. “You fall in love with the rhino,” he told me. “You get a lot of joy looking at them. They are dinosaurs. You can look at them and imagine the world before. People think they’re clumsy, but they’re actually very graceful. Like ballerinas.”
Simon Penfold, my Scenic Air Safaris host, was right. Through the window of our 10-seater plane, I watched a herd of elephants saunter across the Masai Mara plains with slack-jawed astonishment as we made our way to the landing strip.
I had not heard the call. No one near me had—not the South African behind me, nor the Swedish woman to his left. Not even the Vancouverites, who’d finally silenced the shutters on the shiny new Canons they’d traveled 9,875 miles to test out in Botswana, and who had proven to be the couple in our mud-smacked 4WD who maybe, maybe, could spot something before OB, our guide, had a chance (they got high praise for spying a rare red-billed quelea 30 minutes earlier which sent those shutters aflutter). With two days of game drives already behind us, the five of us now understood when OB sensed something.
WE ARE MARCHING single file on a mountain path, winding our way through a bamboo forest, tall spindles shooting to the sky. Sunlight splashes through the canopy, hitting the pale green of the bamboo sheaths and turning the light a refulgent green. It’s magical, and strenuous. About 2,000 feet up, the vegetation turns into a jungle of hairy plants with needles and nettles. My ankles and calves itch terribly, but I concentrate on the mission at hand: getting face-to-face with a mountain gorilla.
Safari camps are always changing. Of course, the location and design are important, but it’s really people who make a safari experience special. It’s not only the guides, but the dining staff, the managers, and all of the hardworking folks behind the scenes who set the stage for our wonder.
Here at Next Adventure, we take safaris personally. We want to know the people who will be taking care of our guests and what the experience on the ground is really like. That’s why we make a huge effort to stay up-to-date and personally visit all the regions we recommend. This Spring, three-fifths of the Next Adventure team will be attending tradeshows and participating in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, so we have the best information when it comes time to design your custom itinerary.
Here’s some of the spots we can’t wait to experience!
Tswalu – The Motse
For many years, Tswalu has been a perennial favorite, and it is unlike anywhere else. It occupies a relatively unknown corner of South Africa, and it has a completely unique ecosystem which is home to extraordinary wildlife like meerkats, pangolin and aardvark as well as plentiful plains game and predators. It is also known for a comfortable and stylish decor which will be completely refurbished in 2019. We can’t wait!
This sector of the Okavango Delta has always been a beautiful and productive area for wildlife viewing, but now, with the brand new Qorokwe Camp, it’s the only place you can track relocated rhino on foot. Plus, the new camp is simply stunning!
Sarara’s main camp has always been a real home run with families visiting Northern Kenya. There are wonderful cultural interactions like witnessing the extraordinary Singing Wells, and there are great conservation experiences like visiting the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary which rehabilitates orphaned elephants. While Sarara has been a pioneer in Star Beds and fly camping experiences, this year we’re excited to see their new seasonal Treehouses. There just can’t be too many ways to sleep out under the African sky!
Kili likes to call Davison’s Camp “a little camp with a big heart.” This simple camp is perfectly positioned in the Linkwasha reserve in Hwange National Park offering outstanding big game wildlife viewing. It’s a prime area for spotting cheetahs, and it comes at a great price point. For even better value, choose Davison’s during the shoulder season when the plains are lush and green, and you can avoid peak season rates.
A family vacation is all about sharing special moments, and we can’t think of many moments more special than being out in the wilderness with an expert guide up close to Africa’s great wildlife. Of course, you’ll see elephants and lions, but you’ll also get to feel the heat coming from a termite chimney or learn the difference between the sandy tracks of a cheetah or a leopard. Not only is it a tremendously educational experience, it can be a transformative one as well. We’ve seen a number of young people who were inspired by a family safari to pursue a career in conservation or development in Africa.
For us, the key to a family safari is flexibility and variety. We want to choose areas that can offer a lot of different ways to get out of the vehicle and experience the African bush first hand. We also want to find camps that can offer activities during the midday break which is a perfect opportunity to have a siesta while the kids embark on their own guided mini safaris.
Most of all, a family safari allows everyone to focus on sharing these amazing experiences instead of trying to make them happen. Once you’re on safari, there’s nothing to figure out except whether that paw print belongs to a cheetah or a leopard!
Here’s four of our favorite family safari experiences!
Imvelo Elephant Express in Hwange
This is a truly unique and fun experience for a family to hop on vintage rail car that chugs along the border of Hwange National Park. Exclusively on offer from Imvelo Safaris, there’s no cooler way to make your way across the African bush. There’s snacks and drinks and a real sense that you’re on a great journey, even though it’s only a 2 hour ride, and you can see all kinds of wildlife from the train!
EcoTraining in Kruger
For decades EcoTraining was exclusively a professional guide training organization, and now they are making their courses available to travelers who are looking to go a little deeper than just taking photos. With a range of camps in Botswana, South Africa and Kenya, they can create a custom module based on your particular interest. Whether it’s birding, tracking or astronomy, this is a great value option with lots of different activities and true on-the-ground field training.
Camel Safaris at Lewa
One of the most interesting and successful conservation projects anywhere in Africa, Lewa Wilderness is known for their groundbreaking rhino conservation program and their strong collaboration with local communities. It is also home to extraordinary camel-supported walking safaris so you can get out of the vehicle and experience Kenya’s vast Northern Rangelands with an expert Masai guide.
Exclusive Camps & Lodges in Tanzania
For complete flexibility, one of our favorite options is an exclusive use safari house or villa. There’s no worrying about other guests in camp, you have the whole place to yourself, and it’s a great choice for a multi-generational family safari. We’re seeing more and more of these types of accommodations, and we’re most excited to see a brand new Forest Camp coming soon to Chem Chem on Tanzania’s Lake Manyara. It’s a wonderful area with spectacular walking, outstanding food and wonderful cultural experiences.
Next Adventure is excited to announce an opportunity to travel with our Managing Director, Kili McGowan, on a truly unique small group itinerary to experience some of Zambia’s most remarkable wildlife destinations.
This Zambia Migration Safari for November/December 2018 begins after Thanksgiving 2018, which hopefully is a nice time for everyone’s calendars. We’re especially excited as this itinerary will satisfy first-timers with excellent big game wildlife viewing as well as repeat travelers who are interested in visiting lesser-known regions.
With the unusual addition of walking to see migrating fruit bats in Kasanka and the chance to witness first-hand a phenomenal conservation & wilderness rehabilitation project in the very remote Liuwa Plains of Western Zambia, this is a one-of-a-kind itinerary.
We’ve currently got a few interested parties, and space is limited. If you’d like to learn more about this unique opportunity or custom safari options, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
NA Zambia Migration Safari 2018 One Sheet
Next Adventure is very excited to offer this unique and exclusive opportunity to travel with Safari Specialist Kelly Dellinger in search of the elusive snow leopard in the Indian Himalayas in January 2019. While sightings are not guaranteed, this itinerary is specifically designed to put you in exactly the right place at the right time to optimize your chances of quality sightings. Unlike other snow leopard treks, this itinerary utilizes the only dedicated wildlife lodge in remote Western Ladakh, and extensive or strenuous trekking is not required. In addition to the highlight of spotting snow leopards, this itinerary offers a true alpine wilderness experience and extraordinary access to a rarely visited region.Snow Leopards of Ladakh 2019 One Sheet (1)
Lewa Walking Wild Fly Camping
Walking Wild is a camel safari outfit based out of Lewa Wilderness. This venture offers guests the unique opportunity to explore by foot the remote valleys, hills and plains of both Lewa and neighboring Maasai community conservation areas. Guests spend the days walking, whilst the camels and Maasai transport the camp, meeting up each evening for unforgettable nights camping out in the bush.
Sleeping tents are dome shade netting tents, PVC floor, 3 meters by 3 meters and 3.5 meters high, insect and reptile proof, with flysheet in case of rain. Bedding is a bedroll on the floor with sheets and blankets. Ablutions are two loos – short drop type and two showers canvas bucket type. This is a walking safari supported by camels, however camels can be ridden when the terrain or route allows.
The patchwork of private conservancies, ranches and farms knit together the Laikipia Plateau, the gateway to Kenya’s little-visited northern territory. Amid spectacular scenery, traditional ways of pastoral life coexist with an abundance of free-roaming wildlife. Laikipia has one of the biggest and most diverse mammal populations in Kenya—only the Masai Mara boasts more game. The big five are present, plus wide-ranging wild dogs; there’s even a chance of seeing the rare aquatic Sitatunga antelope. Laikipia is also home to about 25% of the world’s population of rare Grevy’s zebra and half of Kenya’s black rhino population. This is also the best place to view such northern species as reticulated giraffe, Somali ostrich, Beisa oryx, Jackson’s hartebeest and gerenuk. Numerous impala and Grant’s gazelle ensure healthy predator populations of lion, leopard and cheetah.
What to expect from Laikipia: Seclusion! Rawness! Rarity! The amazing thing about Laikipia is the cooperation between humans that make this wildlife habitat sustainable. The rugged beauty of the semi-arid deserts and escarpments is simply stunning. You will see rare animal species but rare visitors in Laikipia. Keep in mind that the plateau is high, with altitudes from 5,500 feet to 8,500 feet, so bring sweaters and jackets year round.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Set against the backdrop of snow-capped Mount Kenya, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a magical place for the ultimate Kenyan safari experience. The diversity of scenery from open plains, rolling hills, valleys, escarpments and rivers brings rich game viewing opportunities while supporting community initiatives and sustainable development. LWC is home to all of the “Big Five” and due to the establishment of a rhino sanctuary and breeding program in 1984, it is one of the only areas where visitors are almost guaranteed to see both the endangered black and white rhino. Through the protection and management of endangered species, the initiation and support of community conservation and development programs, and the education of neighboring areas in the value of wildlife, Lewa has become Kenya’s leading model for wildlife conservation on private land. LWC is leading the way for low-impact conservation tourism resulting in direct benefits for communities across the region.
Guests of the four lodges on the conservancy are welcome to walk with a trained guide, view the terrain and wildlife on horse or camelback or perhaps on a scenic flight. Some of these activities are at extra cost and not all are available at every property.
What to expect from Lewa Wildlife Conservancy: Remoteness! Culture! Rhinos! One big advantage of this conservancy is how few guests visit such an immense area. You will feel like this wilderness is your own private haven. There are many cultural experiences available from the various lodges on the LWC and most guests feel that they are respectful and authentically enriching.
Legendary Lodge is one of a kind: it is a luxury property located on the outskirts of Arusha, set in a lush tropical garden surrounded by a working coffee farm. Enjoy inspiring views of Mount Meru from the privacy of your own garden cottage while their staff takes care of your every whim. Conveniently located, the lodge is a 10 minutes’ drive from the Arusha Airport and 1 to 2 hours’ drive from Kilimanjaro International Airport.
The Legendary Lodge offers the highest standard in accommodations and service. The ten garden cottages each have private verandahs and stunning views of Mount Meru that make for the perfect place to relax before or after a safari. The interiors have been designed with a unique blend of African style combined with Western comforts and old colonial luxury. Each ensuite cottage features comfortable split level living to include king size beds with mosquito nets, lounge with fireplace, satellite television, direct dial phone, broadband connection, complimentary mini-bar, fruit basket and coffee and tea station. The bathrooms have a vanity with double basins, bathtub, rain shower, separate toilet and the full range of amenities. The family cottages feature two ensuite bedrooms connected by a spacious living room, fully furnished with satellite television, dining room and kitchen. The family cottages also feature a wrap-around verandah and each one is enclosed in a private garden.
Indulge in gourmet meals served at the old farmhouse. Meal times are flexible and guests are accommodated at their convenience. Wake up calls are accompanied by freshly brewed coffee and tea along with a full English breakfast. Delicious lunches are followed by romantic candle-lit dinners, served with a selection of fine wines. The nearby recreation centre includes a fully equipped gym with aerobics studio, sauna, steam room, pool, tennis and squash courts as well as sports fields and a five-kilometre running track. Optional activities offered are a savory coffee tour, shopping at the nearby Cultural Heritage Center or an excursion to Arusha, Tarangire and Manyara National Parks or other nearby attractions. Legendary Spa offers a full range of professional services. After a long flight, ease your body into African time with a relaxing massage or reflexology treatment. After your safari, rehydrate your skin with a personalised face or body treatment. Whatever your pleasure, Legendary Lodge will ensure a truly legendary experience.
FACT SHEET LEGENDARY LODGE
Mwiba, a secluded, sophisticated haven set among massive stone boulders, ancient coral trees and acacias, overlooking a rocky gorge on the Arugusinyai River, is the latest addition to the Legendary Expeditions portfolio. Set in harmony with this idyllic natural backdrop, Mwiba offers an unmatched experience in luxury adventure. This exclusive destination mixes both traditional and modern design elements, creating an inviting, sophisticated hideaway.
The interiors artfully integrate the natural surroundings with layer upon layer of textured creams paired with suede, tans and accents of chocolate and charcoal. From the linen dressed slope-armed sofas to ornately carved wooden leg tables and cascading lighting, the eight double suites all give way to a wide-open layout where each room flows to another. The bathroom brings the outdoors inside with traditional canvas walls accented with copper fixtures, large soaking tubs with private outside showers, all with transporting views from hardwood plank decks.
The grey slate-lined infinity-edge pool overlooks three springs where guests can enjoy the sights and sounds of a constant parade of wildlife. Vast and privately controlled, this exquisite 129,530 acre wildlife reserve is vibrantly lush with color-infused botanicals, 33 freshwater springs and a diverse array of wildlife. Game drives, bush walks and cultural excursions to the local tribe’s village are just a few of the magical experiences that begin at Mwiba, where a world of adventure awaits.
MWIBA LODGE FACT SHEET
Mwiba Lodge Cultural Interaction
Explore a rich landscape of inky blue skies, burnt orange sunsets and the soft neutrals of the African savannah. Within the largest of Tanzania’s national parks is a promise of luxury with premier accommodations and superb service that are Legendary Serengeti Camp.
SOUTH SERENGETI / MASWA: beginning of December until the end of April
WEST SERENGETI: middle of May through to middle of July
NORTH SERENGETI: middle of July to the end of November
LEGENDARY SERENGETI MOBILE FACT SHEET
We couldn’t be more excited to see this new Wilderness Safaris camp opening in one of the Delta’s most productive areas. New photos by Dana Allen have just been released, and we’re happy to share them below. Not only is it a stunning new camp, it offers both water and land-based safaris as well as the rare opportunity to track black rhino on foot.
More from Wilderness Safaris:
The exclusive Qorokwe Concession encompasses over 26 180 hectares (64 692 acres) in a high-density game area of the south-eastern Okavango, bordering the renowned Moremi Game Reserve, which has been unutilised for more than four years. Exploring Qorokwe reveals a world of diverse Delta habitats supporting a wealth of wildlife, earning the area’s well-deserved reputation as a top Botswana safari destination.
Qorokwe Camp has eight elegant tented suites plus one very spacious family unit with its own splash pool. En-suite facilities feature an indoor/outdoor shower. The magnificent main area is the focal point of the camp and overlooks a lagoon. The dining area, lounge, library and bar are built on raised wooden platforms, all connected by walkways.
- The Qorokwe Concession has permanent water all year round, allowing for outstanding game viewing during every season
- Seasonal palm-dotted and wooded islands, tranquil waterways and dry woodland ensure a year-round variety of game and birds
- Concentrations of all the larger predators are seen in the area
When I was a kid I read things about Daniel Boone and the Native American explorers and scouts. They had lore like “they could tell from a broken twig that an animal had passed this way…” I didn’t make much of it at the time. It was an abstract idea, filtered through the experience of a city kid, but what we experienced in Africa was amazing. — Alan S., Berkeley, CA
When travelers return home from an African wildlife safari, they often describe the experience as being “beyond words.” Luckily, our recent clients Jane & Alan found the words to describe what it was like to be out on a game drives while visiting Khwai Tented Camp & Linyanti Bush Camp. Enjoy their photos below along with their excellent description of a classic african game drive!
First, the guides knew their miles-wide terrain as well as I know my back yard. There aren’t very many roads – what passes for roads are basically dirt or sand paths, with non-stop bone-jarring ups and downs. Anything else looked like a track that had been run over by a jeep (more likely, a Land Cruiser) a few times – top speed 20 MPH, with curves and ruts all over the place. We also learned what “all-terrain vehicle” meant – deep sand, thigh-high water, marsh (in search of buffalo), etc. (The cars were modified so that their air intake valves were at shoulder height, allowing the vehicle to go through deep water without compromising engine intake.)
Just stunning…there is a constant parade of animals coming down the hill and you can see the vastness of the flat, open landscape. — Courtney, SF
Honeymooners Christian and Courtney wanted a special kind of adventure, a honeymoon safari, to celebrate their wedding. They connected on their own with a non-profit organization to volunteer in a rural area of Zimbabwe, and Next Adventure linked a custom safari with our partners at African Bush Camps including a visit to spectacular Victoria Falls. They raved about the seamless operations, the quality of the camps and guiding, and the perfect order of diverse experiences in the safari designed by Kili.
After a week of volunteer work and rugged accommodations, the happy couple flew out to Mana Pools National Park to start their honeymoon safari at Zambezi Expeditions on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. Upon landing in Mana Pools, they were greeted by a herd of ostrich and Lovejoy, their guide. Lovejoy, like all the guides and staff Christian & Courtney encountered, was excited to show off his country and was friendly, knowledgable, attentive, and far exceeded any expectations of hospitality. Lovejoy even went out during the midday siesta to search for a pack of wild dogs that Christian & Courtney hadn’t yet spotted. Of course, he found the pack of wild dog and brought all of the guests out to see them. From canoeing and walking safaris to driving in the park, each day was full of wildlife sightings at a nice pace.
In the quiet pre-dawn, our small group huddled together around the tea and coffee that the camp staff had so beautifully laid out. There was a ripple of excitement among my colleagues and fellow members of Safari Professionals–we were seeing a rhino receive a veterinary field check-up and be fitted with an electronic tracking device today! For some of us, this was a first time close encounter with the ‘nitty gritty’ of conservation work. We were thrilled to see conservation efforts we’re so passionate about in action! All of us support the incredible work being done by Map Ives and Rhino Conservation Botswana, and we couldn’t have been more grateful to the entire team from Wilderness Safaris for facilitating this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
When the time came, like the quiet creatures we were setting out to see, our group slowly moved toward our waiting helicopters. As the helis zipped us along to the rendezvous point, I marveled at how anyone could find a rhino in the vast landscape that is the Okavango Delta. Waves of hope and undercurrents of despair washed over me–hope that conservation efforts like these were having a positive impact for rhinos and despair that the situation is so dire that these operations are essential to the survival of this extraordinary species.
We touched down, and our small group met with the team of veterinarians who had identified a large adult male White Rhino for darting. It was an individual who had been relocated to Botswana some 20 years ago. The vet expertly tranquilized the rhino so that he could be fitted for his electronic monitoring devices. The veterinary team would also measure and check his overall health to document his condition. As we approached by vehicle and then on foot, I had to gasp at the sheer size of the rhinoceros. He was massive and lying peacefully as the vets quickly got their samples and measurements.
In the awed silence while watching them work, I could hear the rhino’s slow rhythmic breathing and watch his chest expand with each inhale. We could examine his enormous horn closely–even seeing the tiny fibers which make up this valuable commodity. We were able to touch the soft skin of his underbelly and his coarse mud-covered back.
I was filled with hope and my eyes teared up as the vets efficiently set the tracking devices in place and revived the rhino. Within a minute, our rhino stood and carefully scanned the area before sauntering into the nearby bush.
We got to watch these elegant cheetah brothers move through the beautiful countryside, standing up on massive boulders for a better vantage point – every position was taken with great intention. I was humbled while observing their instincts at play, with all of them watching, always looking in separate directions to optimize hunting opportunities and to continually ensure the safety of their clan.
In the last week of April, I traveled to the Northern Tuli Block in far eastern Botswana, which contains southern Africa’s largest private game area, the Mashatu Game Reserve. I had never been to this region of Botswana before and I was awed by the natural beauty and incredible wildlife that I discovered while staying at both Mashatu Tent Camp and Mashatu Main Lodge.
I flew into Johannesburg, South Africa and stayed overnight at the clean, comfortable, well-priced and conveniently located Citi Lodge business hotel, a short walk from the customs and baggage area at OR Tambo International airport.
After a hearty buffet breakfast at the hotel the next morning, I walked over to check-in for my Angel Gabriel charter flight to the Limpopo airstrip. The Angel Gabriel representative met me at an upright banner near gates 60-65, checked me in and a host escorted me, along with a few others on the flight, through to the boarding area. It was a quick and easy 1-hour flight to Limpopo and the plane buzzed with excitement of a group of women from the UK and France who were arriving to do an overland horseback riding safari.
Upon landing at Limpopo, clearing customs into Botswana was about as easy as it gets – I simply walked up to the customs window for a stamp. My Mashatu driver, Spike, was waiting for me and within 10 minutes of landing, we were headed on a 45-minute drive towards my home for the night, Mashatu Tent Camp. It started to rain on the drive to camp, so I layered up in my gore-tex and Spike gave me a Mashatu poncho, which I layered on top. My turnaround time at camp was very fast, as afternoon tea was already under way when I arrived. I grabbed my camera gear, had a quick bite to eat and some tea before departing on my first game drive at Mashatu. It was quite wet out there, which is unusual for this area. We stopped to admire giraffe before driving on to a site where an python had been spotted earlier that day. The python had moved on already, so we drove on, taking in the stunning scenery while Marty, PJ and I started getting to know each other. By lucky coincidence, we happened to be staying at Mashatu at the same time, so I got to spend a bit of time in the bush with Next Adventure travelers! We found a huge male leopard just before sunset and got to spend time with him and enjoy a very close sighting before he started moving on. It was a beautiful sight to watch this leopard move through the bush, elegantly hidden by his mesmerizing spotted coat. A hot shower was very welcome before dinner – the canvas tents on raised platforms at Mashatu Tent Camp are cozy and comfortable and have a classic safari vibe, with an outdoor shower and separate bathroom attached to the back of each tent. This is an intimate camp with a welcoming atmosphere, as all guests gather for dinner around a common table for dinner and share stories from the day.
The next morning was cool and crisp – we huddled comfortably under wool blankets in the vehicle as we left camp before sunrise. Our morning was filled with incredible wildlife sightings, beginning with a young injured elephant whose trunk had been caught in a snare, most likely in Zimbabwe, and was now only about 3/4 of the length of a typical elephant trunk. The elephants in Mashatu often times drink water by placing their trunks down through the deep gravel sandbanks in order to filter river water through the earth to ensure greater purity. This poor injured elephant had to kneel down on her knees in order to access water. She was surviving, but clearly her life is far more difficult following this injury and one can only imagine would be shorter than it would have been without this devastating interference of man.
We left our highly adaptable elephant friend and rolled onward, encountering herds of wildebeest and marveling at the giant Mashatu trees, which are the namesake to the area. Mashatu is known as “The Land of the Giants,” which comes from this massive Nyala berry tree and also the many giants of the wildlife kingdom that call Mashatu home. We passed the gorgeous lilac breasted roller (Botswana’s national bird) and stopped to admire this colorful little beauty before driving on to an elusive sighting that our incredible tracker, Goms, was able to spot from a long distance away at the clearing or the edge of the forest – a bush pig! I’ve included a picture below… this was the first time I had ever seen one. Before long, we were treated to some time with a massive black-maned male lion, who is honestly one of the most gorgeous specimens I’ve ever seen. He is eight years old and does not have any notable scars on his body or his face, which is quite rare, as males must fight to defend their territory, sometimes to the death. This male shows such prowess that he has maintained this territory for many years. A hush fell over the safari vehicle while we all sat gazing upon this magnificent creature. He showed such a gentle command of the land, while at the same time exuding extraordinary power and grace.
Mashatu Tent Camp
Very shortly afterwards, we encountered a beautiful, young female leopard. Our guide, Justice, drove expertly through challenging terrain so that we could follow her and watch her move through the wilderness. She walked immediately next to the vehicle and I found myself transfixed, marveling at her intricate coat. We drove through the stunning countryside spotted with acacia trees herds of zebra and black-backed jackals, running alongside their lifelong mate through the grasslands. We came upon a herd of elephant and were able to watch them feed and got to observe the adorable, tiny youngsters following their mothers. I have a soft spot in my heart for all wildlife but eles are one of my favorites. I always take time to study the texture of their skin and to gaze into those soft, gentle, intelligent eyes. Within the herd, there was a massive bull elephant in pursuit of a female – he wanted nothing to do with us and displayed his dominance with loud trumpeting and head swinging. We knowingly quietly drove away, out of respect for this massive and beautiful creature. Our morning drive came to a close and we headed back to Mashatu Tent Camp, where I quickly packed my things and met Justice for the 45-minute trip over to Mashatu Lodge.
I arrived at Mashatu Lodge in time for brunch and was well-fed before settling into my new, quite luxurious room for the afternoon. Mashatu Lodge has a different feel from the tented camp and is a good match for guests seeking more creature comforts and a larger private space to enjoy while at the lodge. The rooms are spacious and very well-appointed, with a sitting area, spa bathroom with double sinks, a soaking tub and a generous shower with waterfall showerhead, along with a full walk-in closet and dressing area. The lodge has a main covered patio overlooking a very active waterhole where breakfast and brunch are served. The food is fresh and delicious with an impressive amount of variety and many healthy choices. The lodge grounds feature a swimming pool, an internet lounge, a curio shop and my favorite – the Gin Trap – a festive gathering place where safari stories are shared over drinks prior to dinner, which is served under the stars, in the glow of torch light in the outdoor boma.
While at Mashatu Lodge, for the majority of the time, I was very lucky to have a private vehicle with Kaiser as my exceptional naturalist guide and Goms as our keenly aware tracker. We had an incredible time together and definitely became friends over the course of those three days…it’s hard not to bond while sharing in such magnificence. Our first sighting that evening was of the same giant male lion that I had seen earlier in the day. We encountered him walking down dirt tracks where safari vehicles had passed, so he was fully visible – it was a special sighting indeed, as he walked directly towards, adjacent to and beyond our vehicle. Our evening ended with a sighting that was particularly special to me – just before dark we got to spend time with a mother cheetah with three female cubs. I had not seen cheetah since my first safari in Kenya, 17 years earlier, so I was thrilled at the chance to spend time with these elegant cats once more. The four of them were lying flat in a clearing on the grasslands. We stayed with them until dark and then drove to enjoy sundowners and getting to know each other a bit more. On the drive home, due to the expertise of our spotter, I got to see a family of African Wildcat, which is quite a rare sighting. The kittens were tiny and peering out of the bush with innocent and curious eyes.
Checkout this 24/7 live feed video from Pete’s Pond on Mashatu
The following morning started with a long-distance sighting of a leopard crossing the massive, dry riverbed that we were driving through. As the sun continued to rise, we followed her on a seemingly impossible driving route up the very steep riverbank and into the heavily wooded terrain above. Kaiser thought that there was a possibility she might be moving her young cub, which would’ve been really exciting to see, but it turns out that she had apparently already moved the cub earlier in the day. We stayed with her for a while and drove a carefully executed route that our tracker recommended, in order to follow her through the bush. Our sighting culminated with the leopard starting to hunt an impala that was just off her track and out of sight. The leopard determined that the impala was too far away to be worth expending so much effort, but we did get to watch her position into a crouch and begin the process of what would have been a hunt, had the conditions been more favorable. Thrilling!
After this very exciting start to our morning, we continued through the beautiful landscape and came upon a mother cheetah with three sons. The young males were playing with each other and exploring the area for a bit before the mother got up and prompted them to follow her, at which point they all walked off through the bush. Almost as soon as we left this family of cheetah, we came upon another family. The Mashatu terrain of open grassland, dotted with acacia trees, which provide shade and excellent cover, is perfect hunting terrain for cheetah so they thrive in this area. We watched this family under a tree and I was just mesmerized by their markings and their affectionate behavior with each other. After a full morning of cats, we stopped in yet another beautiful spot for coffee and fresh baked goodies, surrounded by ostrich walking in the distance, paired off with their mates.
During my stay, I had a unique treat in store – I got to mountain bike with my guide Mario, riding on the ancient elephant trails that cross the reserve! This was such an exciting adventure and a beautiful way to experience the area. In some ways, it was even more intimate being on a bike, as we peddled across the landscape with herds of impala running through the bush, crossing in front of us and running alongside as we peddled. On our ride, we encountered a herd of elephant almost immediately, so Mario and I stopped and admired them from afar (with my heart pounding), making sure that we weren’t causing them any distress before turning to ride the other direction. One of the unique qualities of staying at Mashatu and being on the private reserve, is that you do have the option to ride mountain bikes and also to choose walking safaris, providing a huge amount of flexibility and variety to your experience. Mashatu is an excellent option for travelers who are interested in being more active while being on safari. At the end of my mountain bike adventure, Mario and I met up with Kaiser and Goms and the vehicle. I said goodbye to Mario and my bike and drove off to end the evening enjoying sundowners and listening to the call to the calling lions. We followed the calls of three females and spent sunset and the transition to complete darkness next to the pride listening to this beautiful, resonant and utterly primal sound.
One of my most memorable sightings at Mashatu was following a coalition of three mail cheetahs who have been together since their birth and are now 15 years old. They look very healthy and are obviously so bonded to each other, it was really heartwarming to see. I’m sure this brotherly bond is one of the reasons for their success as a coalition of hunters and for their long, successful life together. We got to watch these elegant cheetah brothers move through the beautiful countryside, standing up on massive boulders for a better vantage point – every position was taken with great intention. I was humbled while observing their instincts at play, with all of them watching, always looking in separate directions to optimize hunting opportunities and to continually ensure the safety of their clan.
Mashatu Main Lodge
My final wildlife sighting at Mashatu was extremely special, especially for me, because it was the first time I have seen a pack of wild dogs. I am a self-professed “dog freak,” and it was such a joy to see this newly introduced pack of seven wild dogs, who appeared to be thriving after just two months on the reserve. Mother nature seemed to be celebrating with me, Kaiser and Goms when she delivered an absolutely stunning sunset to close our days together on safari at Mashatu. A magical time, indeed!
India: Wild & Royal – Ranthambore – Jaipur – Kanha – Bandhavgarh
Exclusive Small Group Departure – December 30, 2017 – January 11, 2018
Travel with renowned safari guide and naturalist Allen Bechky on an exclusive tour of Jaipur & three of India’s richest wildlife reserves in search of Bengal tigers, Indian leopard, Asian wild dogs, spotted jungle cat and sloth bear.
On this unique and exclusive safari, you explore the fabled jungles of India in search of the Bengal tiger, visiting the best tiger reserves in India at the best time of year to see this charismatic cat. We’ll also see a full range of the beautiful animals that share the tiger’s world. Herds of deer (cheetal, sambhar, and swamp deer), gaur (impressive bovines larger than American buffalo), wild pigs, and acrobatic langur monkeys are the main prey base.
The tiger is the apex predator but it shares the jungle with leopard, dhole (Asian wild dogs), spotted jungle cat, sloth bear, and jackals. Peacocks, rollers, hornbills, and bee-eaters are some of the many colorful tropical bird species. The Indian jungle is alive with the sounds and sights of the wild.
This 12-night itinerary has been designed to experience a wide variety of ecosystems, habitats, activities and wildlife sightings in addition to touring Jaipur, India’s Pink City. We’ll travel under the care of &Beyond India, a leading luxury experiential travel company whose commitment to sustainable responsible travel, community empowerment and conservation is world-renowned.
Itinerary in Brief: 13 days / 12 nights
December 30, 2017 – January 11, 2018
30 Dec – Arrive in Delhi and transfer to the Taj Mahal Hotel for 1 night
31 Dec – Transfer via Golden Temple Train to Swai Madhopur station, transfer to Dev Vilas Hotel for 3 nights
1-2 Jan – Two full days to experience Ranthambore National Park on twice daily game drives
3 Jan – Morning game drive, afternoon road transfer to Jaipur’s Trident Hotel for 2 nights
4 Jan – Full day tour of Jaipur including Hawa Mahal, the City Palace and the Amber Fort
5 Jan – Fly to Raipur and transfer to Kanha National Park, Singinawa Jungle Lodge for 3 nights
6-7 Jan – Two full days for twice daily game drives in Kanha National Park
8 Jan – Morning game drive, afternoon road transfer to Bandhavgarh’s Tree House Hideaway for 3 nights
9-10 Jan – Two full days to explore Bandhavgarh National Park on twice daily game drives
11 Jan – Morning game drive, transfer to Jabalpur Airport and fly to Delhi for onward arrangements
Recommended extensions include visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, extending your safari in Panna National Park near the extraordinary Khajuraho Monuments, spotting the Indian rhino in Kaziranga or canoeing in Satpura.
On Safari with Allen Bechky
Allen Bechky is among the most renowned wildlife safari guides. Although his professional expertise as a naturalist guide has been focused on Africa and India, his wildlife experience ranges all over the world. Allen has been roaming the jungles of India since 1971, when a face-to-face on-foot encounter with a tiger set the course for his career.
He has since led many trips to wildlife reserves all over India. Allen is a keen and enthusiastic naturalist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of animal lore. A safari with Allen Bechky is always a memorable and intensive wildlife experience!
As an old saying goes: The only way to have great ideas is to have a lot of ideas. We think the same applies to safaris and wildlife photography. The more time you spend in the bush, and the more photos you take, the better chance you’ll have of getting great shots.
Bee wanted to make sure she had the perfect camera for her safari, and she couldn’t have been happier with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. Olympus customer service went out of their way to make sure she had the newest technology without it being too heavy or unwieldy. We hesitate to guess how many photos Bee & Chaz took to narrow it down to these wonderful photos, but we can tell you where they were and a bit about their two most recent safaris.
Our guide Duncan at Mara Plains saw the White Browed Coucal attacking this chameleon. We watched in wonder as he systematically tried to pull the chameleon off the bush by trying to unwrap its tail then pulling on the chameleon’s limbs. After some time in the epic struggle for life vs lunch, the coucal gave up and the chameleon survived…for the moment. — Bee & Chaz
As you might have guessed, the Next Adventure team fully supports taking the whole family on safari! As family safaris have grown in popularity, the options for quality family experiences have also grown. Some of the best camps and lodges now provide dedicated family spaces and phenomenal creative resources ensuring a safari with children or grandchildren is a pleasure for all.
The beauty of these family-friendly camps is that guests can spend quality time with the kids as well as finding time to pursue their own interests or just relax while in camp. Here are a few of Next Adventure’s favorite places to spend time in the bush with kids of all ages!
Jeremy’s Pick for Family Safaris: Imvelo’s Elephant Express
The combination of iconic Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls typically makes for a family trip of a lifetime! With Imvelo Safari Lodges, you get a tremendous value, comfortable accommodations and outstanding wildlife experiences in Hwange. Children ages 7 and up are welcome at all properties, and they will marvel at the wildlife and cultural programs which are integral to the Imvelo safari experience. Best of all, every family member will love the Elephant Express train transfer, a vintage open-air railcar that rides along the edge of Hwange National Park for truly unique wildlife viewing with a nostalgic twist!
Imvelo – Kids on Safari
Kili’s Pick for Family Safaris: Lamai Serengeti Lodge
One of my favorite options for families is the Lamai Serengeti Lodge, which sits tucked amongst the rocks of a kopje in the Northern Serengeti with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. It’s just a few miles from where the wildebeest cross the Mara River, and, for roughly a quarter of the year, between late July and October, this is where you’ll find the iconic seasonal migration. One of the advantages of this lodge is a range of options for families of different sizes, including the Main Lodge (8 tents, children 8 & up), the Private Camp (4 tents, children 5 & up) and the exclusive use Mkombe’s House (up to 4 adults, 6 children of any age). Private vehicles are available at main & Private camp at an additional cost while a private vehicle is included in Mkombe’s House. Walking is possible for children 12 and older. This is an ideal location to include on your family’s Tanzania safari!
Lamai Serengeti Lodge
Louise’s Pick for Family Safaris: Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge & EleFun Centre
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge was one of my granddaughter’s first safari experiences when she was just 18 months old. To say that this luxury lodge is a perfect choice for kids of all ages is an understatement. The wildlife viewing in the renowned Sabi Sands is unparalleled, and the lodge excels at making families and kids feel right at home. Two newly opened luxury villas add to the ambiance and are exquisite, spacious, and perfect for a family stay. The rest of the 25 suites are equally charming and can accommodate families as well. The EleFun Centre is staffed by a professional childcare team and organizes age appropriate activities in the Junior Tracker (ages 4-8) and Junior Ranger (ages 9-12) programs. There is a play area and organized games for kids of all ages available all day long in addition to the formal programs.
Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge
Nicole’s Pick for Family Safaris: Lewa Wilderness
In the heart of Central Kenya’s Laikipia region, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is one of the most successful private conservation efforts. This rugged home to the Big 5 and many endangered and rare species has been part of the Craig Family legacy since 1972. Lewa Wilderness features 10 suites, four of which are specifically designed for family safaris, and children of all ages are welcome, little ones under age 5 stay for free. Lewa Wilderness is the hub of all activities on the conservancy, offering East Africa’s only open cockpit biplane and a stable yard of horses suited to all levels of experience. Guests can also camel ride among the wildlife, enjoy flexible game drives, take guided bush walks, visit the local community enhancement projects, and much more.
Whether you’re looking for adventure, education, relaxation or (D.) All of the above, there are so many wonderful family safari options! Get in touch today to start planning your perfect family safari.
With so many truly spectacular natural wonders within relatively close proximity, it’s no surprise the Northern Circuit and Tanzania’s Serengeti plains are such popular first-time safari destinations. Along with that popularity comes the crowds and an overwhelming array of options to consider:
- What are the best camps and lodges for each season?
- Why are some camps so expensive while others seem too cheap?
- What order of destinations makes the most sense?
- What is the most efficient way of getting around?
- Where are the best guides or the best chefs or the best activities for kids?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is, it depends. It depends on you, your preferences and interests and how you envision your ideal safari. That’s why the team at Next Adventure invests so much in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, and all of our safaris feature custom arrangements based on long running partnerships and our first-hand experience.
In November of 2016, Next Adventure’s Managing Director Kili McGowan spent 3 weeks on a comprehensive tour of some of Tanzania’s best camps and lodges. Read her trip report below, flip through her photos, and get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Serengeti plains!
Serengeti – A Swahili word for Endless Plains or Extended Place
Just the sheer number of safari camps and lodges in the Serengeti is daunting, but, when you add that fact that many of them move locations with respect to the seasonal migration, the options can be dizzying. In mid-November, most camps that are not in permanent locations move toward the Ndutu area so they are in position for the expected wildebeest migration, one of Earth’s truly remarkable wildlife wonders.
Typically, the ‘mobile camps’ open in December on the Southern plains. It is quite difficult to predict when the herds will arrive as their movements are very dependent on the rains and other environmental conditions. If one is planning travel during the shoulder season, we highly recommend combining two different regions in Serengeti to maximize your chance of spectacular sightings of the migration.
I visited several properties in the Ndutu / Lake Masek area, most notably the new permanent property Lake Masek Tented Camp, which offers large spacious tents at a mid-range price point. Of course, peak season is December through March when the wildebeest migration and all of the accompanying wildlife drama are at its best, but Lake Masek offers guests year-round big 5 off-road game viewing in the shadow of Mount O’ldeani. Even though I was a bit early for the herds to have arrived, I was treated to an incredible sighting of three bull elephants hanging out in their ‘bachelor herds’ while dwarfing the rest of the animals around them.
Besides the seasonal herds, the Ndutu and Kakessio areas (further southeast from Ndutu, near Lake Eyasi) are well known for decent sightings of wild dogs. Two of our favorite mobile camps in the area are Alex Walker’s Serian Camps, Serengeti South and Serengeti Mobile Kusini. Each camp dedicates a private vehicle to every distinct booking, and they employ some of the best highly trained guides. Guests can hope to catch a glimpse of cheetah on the plains as well as other predators like lion, hyena and wild dog, especially when the herds are in residence (Dec-Mar).
Following my stay down south, my guide and I made our way to the Central Serengeti’s Moru Kopjes area. This region is strategic for catching the migration this time of year as it is between Seronera and Ndutu. My home for two nights was Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp, a fantastic mobile camp nestled in the kopjes (large rocky hills lying on the flat plains). This part of the Serengeti is just beautiful, and we were very lucky with our lion sightings here. It seemed like we kept finding different prides on every drive, and we even saw a wild black rhino–a rare sighting indeed! The camp itself, like Entamanu Ngorongoro, has a relaxed atmosphere, lovely public areas, and six well-appointed ensuite tents.
For a slightly larger and more permanent option, guests might enjoy the ten-roomed Serengeti Pioneer Camp. Also situated in the game-rich Moru Kopjes area, this lodge has a pool, individual dining, and an unbeatable view from its perch on top of a kopje. Another noteworthy camp in the Moru region is Dunia Camp, which has the unique distinction of an all female staff. The warm manager, highly trained guides, and each team member make a supreme effort to provide the best guest experience possible…and they succeed! Overall, visitors to the Serengeti will find the central area near Seronera/Moru excellent for high density game viewing year round, but they will have to compete with a lot more vehicles from other lodges as well.
Far from the crowds of the Central Serengeti lies the remote Namiri Plains Camp. A stay at this Eastern Serengeti gem makes guests feel like they have the Serengeti to themselves, as no other camp is within one hour’s drive of Namiri Plains. The flat open grasslands are prime habitat for cheetah and other big cats along with plenty of resident game. There is a coalition of six male lions nearby that make for exciting viewing and splendid photographic opportunities. Namiri is a year-round destination ideal for honeymooners and those seeking the hidden side of Serengeti.
Moving North toward the Lobo area of the park, I had the chance to spend time at Elewana’s Serengeti Migration Camp. Don’t let the name fool you! This is a permanent ‘hybrid’ lodge that feels a little like a hotel and camp combined. The accessibility to Lobo airstrip, the delicious food, the swimming pool, amazing river views and plentiful wildlife activity make for an incredible Serengeti stay. This camp might be one of the best choices for families looking to spend time in the park.
Further north along the Kenyan border lies the Lamai wedge, a visually stunning landscape blessed with resident wildlife in the path of the migration. This area, along with Kogatende, typically sees the migration pass through in late June through August and then again when the herds come back from Kenya in late September-October. For travelers who are looking for good value in the Lamai region at a mid-range price point, the modern and fresh Lemala Kuria Hills Lodge is an excellent option. One of my favorite lodges in this area is a luxury camp, Lamai Serengeti, which discreetly blends twelve rooms into the nooks of a kopje. There are long walks between the rooms and the lodge, so this place is not ideal for people with mobility issues. The lodge itself offers simple hearty fare and feels like you are spending time in your friend’s living room…it’s that comfortable and relaxed. There is a resident lion pride right at camp and leopard sightings are common on game drives.
Adjacent to the Lamai Serengeti property is the private villa, Mkombe’s House. This is an ideal family property with two ensuite bedrooms juxtaposed with children’s rooms. Four adults and six children can comfortably occupy the house. Exclusive use of a guide and vehicle, a private chef, and pool are just a few of the amenities of this space. Flexibility is paramount, and there is no age limit for children. Mkombe’s House even provides car seats and high chairs for little ones!
As I flew away from the Serengeti on the long journey home, I had to marvel at the high quality service that Tanzania as a whole delivers to safari travelers. The people I met were very proud of their heritage and language, and they were warm, hospitable and eager to learn about the bigger world. The Highlands at Ngorongoro provided one of the most genuine culture interactions I have ever been part of, and the Serengeti offers a dizzying repository of wildlife diversity as it faces developmental challenges with new properties coming onto the scene each year. The robust lion populations and other cat sightings were highlights as well as the black rhino at Moru Kopjes. After this visit, I feel more invigorated and confident than ever to help Next Adventure travelers find the rare gems within the mainstream bustle of tourism in Tanzania.
With all these choices, which camps and lodges would I recommend for you? Call me to start planning your safari or to hear more about mine!
Read Part 1: Tanzania’s Northern Circuit Shines
With so many truly spectacular natural wonders within relatively close proximity, it’s no surprise Tanzania’s Northern Circuit and vast Serengeti plains are such popular first-time safari destinations. Along with that popularity comes the crowds and an overwhelming array of options to consider:
- What are the best camps and lodges for each season?
- Why are some camps so expensive while others seem too cheap?
- What order of destinations makes the most sense?
- What is the most efficient way of getting around?
- Where are the best guides or the best chefs or the best activities for kids?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is, it depends. It depends on you, your preferences and interests and how you envision your ideal safari. That’s why the team at Next Adventure invests so much in educational and familiarization trips throughout East and Southern Africa, and all of our safaris feature custom arrangements based on long running partnerships and our first-hand experience.
In November of 2016, Next Adventure’s Managing Director Kili McGowan spent 3 weeks on a comprehensive tour of some of Tanzania’s best camps and lodges. Read her trip report below, flip through her photos, and get in touch to find out what we would recommend for your safari on Tanzania’s Northern Circuit!
Touching down at Kilimanjaro Airport, I was full of excitement for the epic safari that lay before me. First, I needed to rest, and the nearby Rivertrees Country Inn provided just the right blend of understated luxury and comfort for my first night in Tanzania. The staff was attentive and full of Tanzanian hospitality. The restaurant welcomes a refreshing mix of Arusha residents and international guests, and the feel of the lodge is very local. I had a restful stay and believe that this is the perfect beginning or end to a safari in Tanzania – a mix of refreshment and convenience enhanced by plentiful birdlife and monkey antics in the gardens. Some of our other favorite places to land in Arusha are the Arusha Coffee Lodge or Lake Duluti Lodge.
Tarangire & Manyara
On my first morning, my private guide and I bumped along to Tarangire for about two hours, taking in the undulating hills and plains that welcome you to Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. Given that we know the Tarangire area quite well and our favorite lodges, Sanctuary Swala Camp and Oliver’s Camp are operating at the highest standards, on this trip I decided to investigate a private concession just outside Tarangire. I arrived at Little Chem Chem set amidst the Baobabs and overlooking the shore of Lake Burunge later that day. This intimate vintage safari camp is the perfect setting for big game walks, tracking animals across the plains, or visiting the village school where you can interact with students.
I enjoyed my chance to stretch my legs after being on the long haul flight and in the vehicle. This area between Tarangire National Park and Lake Manyara National Park is home to elephant, buffalo, lion, cheetah, and plentiful plains game species. Seasonally (Dec-Mar), you can view flamingos and hopefully catch zebra and wildebeest calving. Game drives into Tarangire are possible from Little Chem Chem in addition to walking safaris on the private concession.
Sharing the concession to the West is Chem Chem Lodge, an elegant safari lodge known for exquisite culinary experiences and outstanding sundowners on the edge of Lake Manyara. While game drives can be arranged, Chem Chem is best for those who want to set out on foot with their Maasai guides and naturalists. Giraffe, zebra, and many bird species are often your companions on wilderness walks. Meaningful visits to community projects are often considered highlights by many guests. Both of the Chem Chem accommodations embrace the ‘slow safari’ concept where the sensual discovery of the wilderness is paramount. This location is an ideal reprieve from the busier mainstream wildlife viewing destinations and a chance to unwind in the natural beauty of the area while delving into the culture of the Maasai.
Climbing the Great Rift escarpment into the higher altitudes of the Ngorongoro highlands, my next destination was Lemala Ngorongoro Camp, located on the crater rim in an Acacia forest on the Eastern side of the crater. This homey mobile camp has spacious tents with heavy duvets, hot water bottles, and gas heaters to combat the chilly evening temperatures. Along with fantastic service and escorted walks in the forest and along the rim, Lemala Ngorongoro offers quick access into the crater at Lemala gate. We were the first car through at 6am to explore the wonders on the crater floor while most other groups did not arrive until an hour later, allowing for excellent photographic conditions and a bit of uncrowded wildlife viewing! Although it can get congested with visitors, Ngorongoro Crater always delivers incredible wildlife sightings of elephant, hyena, eland, zebra and sometimes rhino. This little microcosm of the Tanzanian plains set against that dramatic crater wall is definitely a sight to behold!
Following a full day of exploring the crater, we headed deeper into the foothills and other craters of the region. Approximately 45-minutes north of the Ngorongoro Crater lies a new camp focusing on the culture and natural history of the area, Asilia Africa’s The Highlands at Ngorongoro. Exclusive and remote, The Highlands is an architectural wonder that maintains coziness and luxurious comfort for active travelers in a truly unique setting. The location of the camp, nestled along the Ol Moti Crater, has steep walks between the guest tents and the main lodge. Wood burning stoves keep the domed tents toasty warm and comfortable. Exemplary hosting at family-style meals makes everyone feel welcome and involved in whatever conversation is being held. This camp feels removed from the bustle of Ngorongoro Crater and offers many options for curious travelers looking for something a little different.
Whether trekking around the Ol Moti Crater or descending into the scenic Empakai Crater with it’s tiny lake dotted with flamingos, the naturalist guides at The Highlands are experts on the local flora and fauna. Perhaps the biggest strength of The Highlands is the unobtrusive and genuine village visits. These manyattas are not your typical commercial cultural experiences but authentic opportunities to learn about the Masai lifestyle from the villagers themselves. A guest might participate in bringing the herds into the boma or hearing a local legend from an elder. No matter what your experience, it will be unique as visits are spread among many surrounding backcountry villages.
Another new experience in the Ngorongoro Crater area lies on the Western rim near the Serena access road at Entamanu Ngorongoro, operated by Nomad Tanzania. Although it feels more ‘traditional’ than The Highlands with its proximity to the Crater itself, Entamanu delivers in every way. Without question, the camp has the best view of any crater property–gazing out over the expansive plains of the Serengeti. With no surrounding forest to obscure views, guests are treated to a 180 degree panorama of one of the most famous landscapes on earth…and did I mention the sunsets? Just stunning…on a continent where marking the end of the day with a cocktail and exquisite bites has become a truly important daily ritual, Entamanu shines.
The cushy barefoot luxury of the camp is evident in throughout all 6 tents as well as the huge main area that feels like a big cozy living room. The camp maintains the highest standards of environmental care–and it is completely removable. The design considered ‘leave no trace’ to be a very important theme of the camp while not sparing any creature comforts for guests. Again, the Nomad management and guides provide outstanding hosting, and they make the family-style meals and excursions truly memorable as guests are welcomed as members of the ‘tribe’. The activity focus of Entamanu is bush walking with armed Ngorongoro Conservation Area Rangers and the Nomad guide team along the rim which can be just as exciting as drives on the crater floor. Relationships with the nearby villages are blossoming and soon will be integrated into the guest experience.
An advantage to the Entamanu location is the nearby access to the famous Oldupai Gorge, where paleo-anthropologists Mary & Louis Leakey’s ground-breaking archaeological discoveries changed the way we think of our earliest ancestors. Following a quick breakfast at camp, we were able to be at Oldupai by 8 A.M., well before any other visitors arrived at the museum. Plans are in place for new facilities to open at Oldupai in the coming year. Once we toured the museum, there was ample time for a visit to Shifting Sands, the fascinating crescent shaped dunes of volcanic ash are a rare scientific phenomenon. From there, we continued down the escarpment and onto the vast plains of the Southern Serengeti National Park near Ndutu.
In Kenya, aspiring safari guides are taught that the ideal guide should possess boundless knowledge of the local flora and fauna, rock-solid survival skills, mastery of the communication arts, and an unflagging sense of humor. And until recently, these guidelines also included an unspoken rule—that guides should be male.